In sometimes stark contrast to major record labels, smaller, independent labels are pushing some of the most authentic, interesting and best new music out there.

In sometimes stark contrast to major record labels, smaller, independent labels are pushing some of the most authentic, interesting and best new music out there.

New West Records is a prime example. The Nashville-based label has teamed up with Savannah Stopover Music Festival to celebrate 20 years of releasing “real music for real people,” with a four-band showcase at the eighth annual festival. New West’s Athens imprint, Normaltown Records, will also host a showcase at Stopover this year, which you can read about at dosavannah.com.

Founded in 1998, New West has released critically acclaimed albums from musicians focused on alt-country, indie-rock and Americana genres, including Jason Isbell, The Drive-By Truckers, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Alice Cooper, All Them Witches, and Shovels & Rope.

Stopover’s New West showcase is highlighted by performances from true outlaw country queens Lilly Hiatt and Nikki Lane. Stopover alums Cicada Rhythm recently signed to New West and will open the bill, along with the country-pop/rock fusion of newcomer Caroline Rose.

Hiatt, the daughter of legendary singer/songwriter John Hiatt, tackled a number of personal topics on her third album, “Trinity Lane,” including her own sobriety and heartbreak. She penned the songs on her own in a small Nashville apartment that lined the street Trinity Lane, in contrast to co-writing the songs, which has become the Music City’s modus operandi of late.

“I’ve never been much of a co-writer,” Hiatt said. “I’ve done it and I am not opposed to it. It’s not my favorite way of writing, honestly. I am always impressed by people who are good at it. I usually write all of the songs by myself; that’s how I like to do it. There’s little ideas here and there that come from collaboration. I think the collaborating part is with my band.”

When it came time to record, Hiatt again broke with the Nashville scene, venturing to just outside Charleston to record with Shovels & Rope’s Michael Trent. The result is an album rooted in country, but full of so much rock influence it drifts outside comfortable compartmentalizing, creating something unique in a landscape full of carbon copies.

“It was a breath of fresh air,” Hiatt said. “It was outside the normal Nashville thing, which is really cool. Everyone knows everyone in Nashville. It was nice to get out of that. I wanted to make a record out of town with someone who was a little out of the box. I think Michael is super cool. We had a great time with him.

“I never once thought — and I usually don’t in the studio, but especially since I had some distance — I didn’t think twice about, what are people going to think; what is this supposed to sound like? That didn’t cross my mind. It was really fun. It was an amazing couple of weeks. We’re grateful he made an album with us.”

 

Hiatt has a unique perspective on New West (which released “Trinity Lane” last year after Normaltown released her first two albums), having seen them work on seven albums with her father over the years.

“I can be a hustler in ways, but I’ve never been super good at mingling with the industry,” Hiatt said. “I knew those guys because they worked with my dad. It certainly wasn’t the thing, ‘dad got me the record deal.' I worked really hard ... I just tried to get them to like me. George (Fontaine Jr.) liked my record and and put it out. I made that record out of my own pocket and they gave me a little money for it. It was cool.

"They’ve come with me as I’ve grown, which is cool and hard to find. I’ve seen them grow and change as a label because my dad was on them for so long. Far before I had my first band together, I knew the people that ran New West. It’s an interesting label. They’ve been through a lot of changes. I think they’re in a good place.”

 

Lane, similarly to Hiatt, draws a lot of influence from rock on her latest album, “Highway Queen,” released on New West last year — her second release on the label. Lane garnered attention for her second album, 2014’s “All or Nothin,’” which was produced by The Black Keys’ frontman Dan Auerbach.

“As much as I love being country, I guess I am a little more rock ’n’ roll than I am pure country,” Lane said. “I didn’t want to be a revivalist. I didn’t want to do something everyone had heard. I thought I would get a little bit more fulfillment having the rock influences in my country, and my voice, I thought it might make it sound a little more unique. I think people are digging deeper and showing that their influences aren’t just country.”

Lane’s musical journey began later in life, in her mid-20s. She jokes it came about “out of spite,” after a former musician boyfriend kept telling her to mind her own business when she asked about songwriting.

“We parted ways, and I made a record,” she says. New West has helped her hone her voice as a musician by providing the tools she needs, without micromanaging.

“They work with people who are good at expressing themselves and they work hard to facilitate monetizing it so we can all eat and do what we love,” Lane said of New West. “Their vibe is, I am not worried about what you’re going to give us. I just want to give you the best tools to make it possible. I think that, when you have a label that is committed to building and you’re building, you have a chance of that happening.”